Sarkozy calls for Mediterranean Union launch in 2008

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TANGIER, Morocco, Oct 23 (Reuters) French President Nicolas Sarkozy today invited heads of state and government from around the Mediterranean to meet in France next year to launch his project of a regional union.

In a sweeping speech in the port city of Tangier during a state visit to Morocco, Sarkozy called on countries to look beyond past failures and build a new Mediterranean Union that would heal cultural divisions, end religious strife and narrow a glaring north-south wealth gap.

Similar efforts in the past have been held back by weak trade ties, political stagnation and animosity among southern Mediterranean states.

''I invite all the heads of state and government of countries bordering the Mediterranean to meet in France in June 2008 to lay the foundations of a political, economic and cultural union founded on the principles of strict equality,'' Sarkozy said.

He indicated that the body would be different from the European Union but that the EU Commission could be associated with its activities.

Sarkozy's project could supersede the faltering Barcelona Process, which aimed to boost cooperation among Mediterranean countries and create a free trade area by 2010, a goal that now looks unreachable.

The plan fits with Sarkozy's emphasis on curbing illegal migration by working with African countries to improve their economies and create jobs to allow young people to stay put.

Spain tried to stage a Euro-Mediterranean summit in Barcelona in 2005, but most Arab leaders stayed away.

Reuters GL DB2312

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